Triple 9, 2016.
Directed by John Hillcoat.
Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Casey Affleck, Anthony Mackie, Woody Harrison, Kate Winslet, Gal Gadot, Aaron Paul, Clifton Collins Jr., Michael K. Williams, Teresa Palmer, and Norman Reedus.
A gang of criminals and corrupt cops plan the murder of a police officer in order to pull off their biggest heist yet across town.
Triple 9 is an anomaly; Australian director John Hillcoat (The Road) uses the tried-and-true plot device of a cornered father (Chiwetel Ejiofor) forced to act out risky odd jobs for the Russian mafia (led by Kate Winslet here in a really transformative and nasty, cold calculating performance) for the chance to see his son again, except it’s impossible to actually care or want him to succeed. The narrative does nothing to paint its crooked cops tied to the mob as anything but despicable human beings that no one will be able to relate to. The characters do want out of the dirty business, but there is no redemption arc, which is something that could be argued as refreshing, but honestly hurts the plot here and will leave audiences numb.
The only morally ethical protagonist in the movie is an up-and-coming cop (played by Casey Affleck) partnered with veteran officer (a crooked cop played by Anthony Mackie) who is about to become the victim of murder as a distraction, so our “heroes” can raid a homeland security compound and turn over sensitive information to Kate Winslet, who will then cut the ragtag group free from her shackles, also reuniting Ejiofor with his son.
It’s obvious what Triple 9 wants to be; John Hillcoat wants viewers to feel divided and unsure of who to root for (the safety of an innocent hard-working police officer, or a group of crooked cops ready to kill him for a distraction in an effort to finish a highly dangerous job that will reunite a father and son), but there is no characterization for the antiheroes, meaning you just don’t care about almost everything happening. We don’t even know if Ejiofor will make a good father for this child or not. He shows a great deal of affection for the kid, but realistically, he is a terrible human being. And if he isn’t, the movie doesn’t show anything to make anyone suggest otherwise.
Despite the grim ugliness of the plot, Triple 9 is still a rather intense piece of filmmaking. Suspense is around every corner, whether it be in a shootout, characters plotting their next move, a drunken but good detective (Woody Harrelson) hot on the trail and determined to uncover what is really going on, realistically depicted bank robberies with thrilling vehicular escape sequences, and the fact that John Hillcoat treats the movie like your average episode of Game of Thrones, in the sense that he is willing to kill off any of his characters for shock, regardless of the profile of the actor.
There’s also a staggering amount of detail to the rundown projects of Atlanta, Georgia. During one of the highly intense aforementioned shootouts, Anthony Mackie must chase down a local Hispanic gangster (all of them have almost their entire bodies inked with artwork expressing their hatred towards the police) while knocking over bottles of alcohol littered through the streets. The characters also come to abandoned areas filled with graffiti and a palpable sense of dread.
That’s also the redeeming factor of Triple 9; it is a dark and cynical look at police corruption, filled with unlikable characters, but underneath all of that bleakness is a shotgun blast of gripping authenticity for the gang lifestyle presented. Whether you actually like the characters or not becomes irrelevant, because you will inevitably succumb to the intensity of the proceedings, and the contained entertaining grimness. You are sucked into a world of darkness, and the stay is captivating.
Towards the end however, Triple 9 starts killing off its characters left and right, but you are more concerned with which high-profile actor will eat a bullet next rather than which character is about to die. And that right there is why the film features such a loaded cast of easily recognizable faces; the filmmakers know the story is flawed, so they’re compensating by allowing you to root for the safety of the performers you’re lovingly familiar with instead. It’s a good trick, but doesn’t necessarily work.
Still, there is a whopping amount of raw content to be found in Triple 9 that makes the whole experience worthwhile. All of the big names involved deliver some fantastic performances, the action sequences are tightly shot and edited to maintain a gripping amount of intensity, and you’re never quite sure where the plot is going. If only the characters and core story were much more intelligent and engaging as the movie clearly aspired to be, Triple 9 could have been something truly special.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★